Kenai Central goalkeeper Bryson Lowe has a giant pair of shoes to fill while following in the footsteps of former goalie Justin Wisniewski.
Kardinals coach David Landry isn't making it any easier for the junior, either.
"I have to catch myself because every time I start talking to him I call him Justin," Landry said of his four-year starter who graduated last year. "In fact, one day we were practicing and I called him Justin five times in the practice."
After the show Lowe put on Thursday, it may grow even more difficult to decipher between the two.
The first-year starter made a dazzling array of leaping saves, and even stopped a crucial penalty shot midway through the second half, in helping Kenai to a 3-1 win over visiting Nikiski in Northern Lights Conference action at Kenai Central.
"Bryson has observed all of that and he's been able to assimilate a lot of this. He's working on his game," Landry said of succeeding Wisniewski. "He's a totally different type of a keeper. He's not the real physical type keeper. He's more of a finesse guy.
"I think he's made some major strides in the first two games to get to where we need to be come region time."
The largest step Lowe took, however, may have come in his mind.
With the Kardinals (2-0 overall, 2-0 NLC) clinging to a 3-1 lead and playing a man down after senior Josh Lazaro was issued a red card for colliding with Nikiski keeper Jordan Harrison on a corner kick in the 30th minute, the Bulldogs (1-4-1, 1-1) were awarded a penalty shot with roughly 20 minutes to play.
Wiley Bennett then appeared to slice the deficit in half when his shot rolled to Lowe's right side. Lowe, though, apparently wasn't ready and informed the referee, who ordered a re-kick, which Lowe then saved, preserving the lead and eventually the win.
Following the game, the ref said it was his fault, allowing Bennett to kick before Lowe signaled he was set.
"In some respects I just thought it was like almost poetic justice that Bryson would make that save," Landry said. "And it was well done."
It was the difference for the Bulldogs, too, who had two solid chances to score in the final 14 minutes, but both were thwarted by Lowe -- the first on a diving save near the 18-yard box and the other on a leaping grab over a Nikiski player.
"I think when they took the PK away, that was kind of a big letdown for the guys. But they fought hard," said Nikiski coach Jim Coburn. "I don't have anything to complain about. I'm pretty proud of them. They fought through the entire game. We just had some bad luck here and there."
Kenai struck first in the 12th minute when Harrison made the initial save on a wide-open shot, but junior Justin Calhoun was there to drive the rebound into the left corner for the early lead.
The Bulldogs, who earned their first win of the season over Skyview on Tuesday, evened the score 12 minutes later when Stefan Krogseng capitalized on a crowded box and headed a rebound past Lowe.
The Kardinals promptly answered when sophomore Codi Woodcock's cross set up a strong shot that was saved by Harrison, yet he couldn't cover the rebound again as Avery Palchnikoff volleyed the ball into the back of the net.
"I wish our defense would have cleared the ball when our keeper did make a block and they didn't do it and unfortunately got scored on," Coburn said.
When Lazaro exited the game before halftime, it left Kenai with only 10 players for the remainder of the contest.
But it didn't matter.
Woodcock, with his back to a defender, trapped a long pass, chipped it over both of their heads and uncorked a rocket that sailed by Harrison only two minutes into the second half.
"That was a pretty little goal," Landry said. "He's a quality player and he's just got a very good sense of this game and a good vision of the field and he knows how to find his mates."
Coburn didn't think the man advantage helped his team much.
"I think they stayed strong enough on defense. I actually think that Kenai played better defense in the second half than they did in the first half," he said. "It didn't really seem to hurt them a whole lot. They've got a well-skilled team and played well.
"Kenai did an outstanding job and our guys hung in there and did the best they could," Coburn added. "They were able to finish up front and we weren't able to finish up front. That's what it came down to."
Kenai girls 8, Nikiski 0
Seven different players found the back of the net in helping the Kardinals improve to 2-0 on the young season with a home shutout of the Bulldogs.
"That's the idea. We don't want to feel like it depends on one or two players but that we're going to move the ball around, everybody's going to take shots, everybody's going to be following," said Kenai coach Dan Verkuilen. "That's kind of what we're trying to build on and tonight it looked good."
Senior Sheena Anderson opened the scoring on a long shot just 41 seconds into the game and junior Casey Coupchiak made it 2-0 with a leaping deflection off a chip by Kaylee Grant only five minutes in.
A penalty shot from senior Holly Perkins at the seven-minute mark, a long, sailing goal by Crystal Hayes two minutes later and a rebound from Perkins when a shot by Shelby Daly slammed off the crossbar staked Kenai to a 5-0 cushion with 10 minutes still to play in the opening half.
Daly then set up sophomore Shelby Toombs for a 6-0 lead entering halftime.
"We're trying to still kind of just move people around and get a fix on where we want them to be in," Verkuilen said. "We've talked about not being too concerned about just jumping out and doing everything right, just kind of a matter of building step by step.
"We have some good, explosive players but we want to start bringing in a lot of mix to it so that we're not stagnant."
They certainly weren't on Thursday.
Hayes added her second of the game four minutes into the second half and Daly capped the scoring on another penalty shot 10 minutes later.
"It's a tough one, especially against Kenai, which is a very strong team," said first-year Nikiski coach Mandy Adair, who was down to her fourth-string goalie and also was missing a number of other players due to injuries and a school play. "Kind of struggling from the start but I think we played a good game and fought through it the whole way, never gave up. We're going to take our heart and keep working hard, keep improving."
The Bulldogs (1-4) nearly scored on a penalty shot in the 56th minute, but Angie Parrish's shot clanked off the crossbar and her rebound also hit the crossbar before the referee's whistle sounded for a hand ball.
"It was a great effort. We had a couple little strokes of bad luck but I think everybody was working hard and trying to get in there and it just happened to bounce weird and bounce off her hand. Otherwise it was going in," Adair said. "Definitely got some chances. We put pressure on them and made them make plays. I think we have a lot to build on."
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